Despite unique challenges, Indians able to get deal done with Kluber

Corey Kluber is the fourth Indians' player in the past 15 months who has signed a long-term extension.

Ken Blaze/Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

For an organization that has taken its share of hits about payroll, the Indians have done right by the core of their roster. Sunday might have been the biggest signing yet as they were able to get an extension done with Corey Kluber.

The reigning Cy Young Award winner has the largest contract for a pre-arbitration eligible pitcher with a five-year deal that also includes club options for 2020 and ’21. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, it is worth $38.5 million but can reach $77 million if he reaches certain performance incentives.

Early in the week it appeared as if a deal might not get done, but the lines of communication between both sides remained open, and they found common ground. The fact that they were able to might be the biggest accomplishment of all. Kluber was under the Indians’ control through 2018, but the deal shows players and fans that they will reward players with the on- and off-field work ethic possessed by players like Kluber.

"It’s not as easy as it looks. Because of other teams that are out there and pay structures we have to do things that work for us," manager Terry Francona told reporters in Houston on Sunday. "We can’t be the trend setters. That is why (general manager) Chris (Antonetti) has had to work doubly hard to make it work.

"When you are around them (the players) you want them to be paid. You have that little bit of paternal feeling and take care of them."

As soon as Kluber won the Cy Young on Nov. 12, the negotiations were going to be unique. There wasn’t a precedent for a 28-year old, pre-arbitration eligible pitcher coming off an award-winning season.

Compared to recent pre-arbitration pitchers who have signed recently, the biggest difference is age. Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura ($23 million), who agreed to an extension on Saturday, is 24. San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner ($35 million) was 22 when he signed three years ago, and Chris Sale ($32.5 million) was 23 when he got his extension with the White Sox in 2013.

If all three remain healthy, they will earn another contract. For Kluber, this might amount to a lifetime deal.

"Corey was up front about this is where he wanted to be," Antonetti said. "The negotiations were challenging but you have to give credit to his agents (BB Abbott and Hank Sargent) for getting it done because it was a unique landscape. We offered more in guaranteed money. In exchange for that we were able to secure his future and at the end that was a risk worth taking."

Kluber will make $1 million this season with an additional $1 million signing bonus. That is followed with salaries of $4.5 million in 2016, $7.5 million (’17), $10.5 million (’18) and $13 million (’19).

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For each top 10 Cy Young finish that Kluber has, his base salary in all seasons between 2019-21 can increase up to $4 million depending on where he finishes. The option is worth $13.5 million in 2020 and $14 million the following season. Kluber also gets a $1 million bonus if he is traded at any time during the contract.

"The financial security is important but more than any other thing I wanted to be here. The young core has been locked up plus what Tito and (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) have meant to me," Kluber said. "I think it shows the commitment the Dolan’s have to put a winning product out there."

Over the past 15 months, the Indians have signed Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis to extensions along with Francona. A new deal with Carlos Carrasco may be announced during the opening series in Houston.

"Sometimes you have to be fortunate since everyone’s situation is different," Francona said. "Some teams have more money than us but we all find a way to make this work and it makes it better. We want them to stay here and be healthy. This goes a long way toward showing it.

"Getting to the finish line (with the contract) before the season started was a tribute to everyone. It’s a great time for the Indians. Shoot, all of our guys are all tied up, and it bodes well for us."

While some players can feel pressure from an extension — Kipnis admitted to it last year — no one expects that to happen to Kluber. As Antonetti noted, even while negotiations were taking place during spring training, there wasn’t a change in Kluber’s approach. Kluber also set the tone the second week in Arizona when he said to reporters that he wasn’t going to discuss the negotiations.

In going 18-9 last season with a 2.44 ERA, Kluber joined Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens as the only pitchers since 1987 to post 18 wins and a sub-2.50 ERA while recording at least 260 strikeouts. Bob Feller (1946) and Luis Tiant (’68) were the only other Indians’ pitchers also to accomplish that.

"Regardless of what happened I would hold myself to the same standards, and they weren’t going to be less," Kluber said.

Francona added that if they thought the pressure would get to Kluber, they wouldn’t have signed him in the first place.

"Kluber is going to be Kluber. Once you start paying guys it is all guaranteed, and when you are buying in, you are buying into the person," Francona said.